I read the new OMB memorandum M-10-15, "FY 2010 Reporting Instructions for the Federal Information Security Management Act and Agency Privacy Management." This InformationWeek article pretty well summarizes the memo, but I'd like to share a few thoughts.
Long-time blog readers should know I've been writing about FISMA for five years, calling it a "joke," a "a jobs program for so-called security companies without the technical skills to operationally defend systems," and other kind words. Any departure from the previous implementation is a welcome change.
However, it's critical to remember that control monitoring is not threat monitoring. Let's take a look at the OMB letter to see if we can see what is really changing for FISMA implementation.
For FY 2010, FISMA reporting for agencies through CyberScope, due November 15, 2010, will follow a three-tiered approach:
1. Data feeds directly from security management tools
2. Government-wide benchmarking on security posture
3. Agency-specific interviews
I wonder how long before CyberScope is compromised?
Turning to the three points, what does #1 really mean?
Beginning January 1, 2011, agencies will be required to report on this new information monthly. The new data feeds will include summary information, not detailed information, in the following areas for CIOs:
• Systems and Services
• External Connections
• Security Training
• Identity Management and Access
So it looks like OMB is requiring agencies to basically report asset inventory information, training status for employees, and some IDM information? And monthly? I guess if you're moving from a three-year cycle to a monthly cycle, that sounds "continuous," but monthly in the modern enterprise is recognized as a snapshot.
How about #2?
A set of questions on the security posture of the agencies will also be asked in CyberScope. All agencies, except microagencies, will be required to respond to these questions in addition to the data feeds described above.
Now I see OMB will be asking agencies questions, which they will have to answer?
As a follow-up to the questions described above, a team of government security specialists will interview all agencies individually on their respective security postures.
This looks like another question-and-answer session, except I expect OMB to spend time with the problem cases identified in steps 1 and 2.
Let's be clear: there's no "continuous monitoring" happening here. This is basic housekeeping, although the scale of the government and bureaucratic inertia make this a difficult problem. I hope this is only the first round of change.
I found the frequently asked questions to be more interesting than the main memo.
30. Why should agencies conduct continuous monitoring of their security controls?
Continuous monitoring of security controls is a cost-effective and important part of managing enterprise risk and maintaining an accurate understanding of the security risks confronting your agency’s information systems. Continuous monitoring of security controls is required as part of the security authorization process to ensure controls remain effective over time (e.g., after the initial security authorization or reauthorization of an information system) in the face of changing threats, missions, environments of operation, and technologies.
Ah ha, finally we see it in print: "continuous monitoring of security controls." There's no continuous monitoring of threats here. Furthermore, I'm wondering why OMB considers asset inventory, training, and IDM to be so crucial to security risks. Sure, they are important, but where's the real "security" in those controls? In other words, they could still observe controls, but those controls could be implementation of filtering Web proxies, firewalls, anti-malware, and other traditional security measures.
36. Must Government contractors abide by FISMA requirements?
Yes... Because FISMA applies to both information and information systems used by the agency, contractors, and other organizations and sources, it has somewhat broader applicability than prior security law. That is, agency information security programs apply to all organizations (sources) which possess or use Federal information – or which operate, use, or have access to Federal information systems (whether automated or manual) – on behalf of a Federal agency. Such other organizations may include contractors, grantees, State and local Governments, industry partners, providers of software subscription services, etc. FISMA, therefore, underscores longstanding OMB policy concerning sharing Government information and interconnecting systems.
This concerns me. Is the government further pushing on contractors to adopt FISMA in private business?
FISMA is unambiguous regarding the extent to which security authorizations and annual IT security assessments apply. To the extent that contractor, state, or grantee systems process, store, or house Federal Government information (for which the agency continues to be responsible for maintaining control), their security controls must be assessed against the same NIST criteria and standards as if they were a Government-owned or -operated system. The security authorization boundary for these systems must be carefully mapped to ensure that Federal information:
(a) is adequately protected,
(b) is segregated from the contractor, state or grantee corporate infrastructure, and
(c) there is an interconnection security agreement in place to address connections from the contractor, state or grantee system containing the agency information to systems external to the security authorization boundary.
It's probably going to take .gov-savvy lawyer to really explain what these points mean, but private enterprise working with government data should probably take a close look at these new FISMA developments.